Legalization has a bad track record
At the end of last month, a bill to legalize marijuana passed a key committee in the New Hampshire House. While the bill certainly has an uphill climb, no lawmaker who truly has the interest of public health and safety would let this proposal see the light of day. To find out why, let’s take a look at how it has affected other states.
When it comes to impacts on youth, legalization has been disastrous. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the rate of past month use among 12-17 year olds has increased in legalized states 2 percent since 2016. On the other hand, non-legalized states and the national use rates saw a decrease of 2 percent and 4 percent, respectively. Tragically, the top toxicology result for teens in Colorado is marijuana, far more than any other drug.
Not only has legalization led to a normalization of drug use among youth in legalized states, the highly potent THC gummies, candies, ice creams and sodas that come with legalization have resulted in skyrocketing emergency room visits and calls to the poison control center. In Colorado, marijuana-related hospitalizations rose 147 percent from 2012 to 2017. In Oregon, marijuana-related cases for children under 5 years reported to the Poison Center rose by 271 percent between 2014 and 2017. And workplace accidents and positives are rising.
Clearly, this is not the weed of Woodstock. It is much more high-octane.
Marijuana use among youth is incredibly concerning due to the extremely damaging effects it can have on the brain. Studies have shown marijuana use can severely impact young people’s ability to learn, permanently lower their IQ and even lead to the onset of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia and psychosis.
What’s worse is we know this from studies on low potency marijuana – we have no clue how damaging 99 percent THC products are on the human body.
More kids using marijuana goes hands in hand with the black market, which by the way is thriving. Foreign cartels and crime syndicates have begun using the legal status of marijuana as a shield to set up massive growing operations in housing developments and even on federal lands. A police report in Oregon found that at least 70 percent of marijuana sales in 2016 were on the black market and around three to five times the amount of marijuana consumed in Oregon leaves the state for illegal sales. In Colorado, narcotics officers have had to deal with a 50 percent increase in illegal grow operations across rural areas of the state. Legalized states have struggled to meet revenue projections as the “legal” markets are finding it hard to compete with the entrenched illicit market.
Finally, some promoters of the marijuana industry like to claim that legalizing the drug could cure the current opioid epidemic our country is facing. But opioid deaths in Colorado have risen every single year since legalization. And a recent study in the prestigious Lancet journal found that marijuana use was not an effective treatment for chronic pain and did not reduce opioid use. In New Hampshire, a state with one of the highest per capita death rates from opioid-related deaths, legalization will be like pouring gasoline on the fire that is the opioid epidemic.
The marijuana industry is working around the clock to become the next Big Tobacco, who has already begun massively investing billions of dollars in the industry. New Hampshire lawmakers should serve the public interest by once again not allowing the industry to expand into The Granite State.
Dr. Kevin Sabet is a former senior drug advisor to President Barack Obama and currently serves as president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.